I've decided to do a recap blog of the Rachel and Dan tour. Nothing too official, and probably a bit one-sided. But I want to give a taste of our travels, and also it's a great excuse to warm back up into storytelling, which I'm going to do a bit more of this summer. I'll try and write one each day this week. Hopefully there's enough to tell! Should be pretty easy to find the time - there's little work on my plate, and due to jet-lag, I'm waking up REALLY early. Yesterday I woke up at 4:30AM (that's 10:30AM Europe-time), to discover that there are birds already chirping at 4:30AM. And then I remembered a quote which I think is attributed to the Dalai Lama, something like: "If I wake up and the birds are already chirping, I know I've already wasted the day." Besides being too much of a perfectionist, I bet the Dalai gets pretty grumpy during the summer month's of early sunrise. Or does he just let that go?
I didn't get up that early today. I stayed out late reuniting with some friends, hearing good music and catching up, and today I slept till 9:30AM. Take that, jet-lag! Ate some food (man I missed my kitchen) and have sat down in a quiet house to write a little bit. It's kinda awesome coming home from tour - drinking out of my favorite coffee mug, or having a large computer screen to work on - or wearing a shirt I didn't have for five weeks - things that seemed really quotidian or unnoticeable before tour, seem like a fun novelty now. It's also fun to be home because it's a bit like New Year's Day - trying to set up some new goals and patterns as its a time of change. Some of that change involves writing a lot more. I didn't write anything on tour that was longer than 420 characters. Welcome back, long-form.
Tour Blog One: Tour Prep / It Begins Again
Tour preparations begin weeks before the tour. Months, actually. Some places where we play program their music schedule six months in advance. Most of them are more like three months in advance. It's kinda nerve-fraying stuff, to book a tour. People have asked me if I'd be interested in doing that professionally. No, never. It's so excruciating at times (for lots of reasons worthy of a whole other blog post), and since we're not talking about tens of thousands of dollars in profit, there really isn't enough money for it to be anything but a labor of love. We tour because we have fans and friends all over the world. And we want to see them. And we want to play for them, and their friends, and hopefully each time the circle gets bigger. Right now, we're not packing stadiums. I suppose if we ever do, there will be enough budget for a booking agent.
We also make our own t-shirts and cds - so three weeks before tour, Rachel and I are screen-printing shirts at Bushwick Print Lab. Also we manufacture our own CDs - we get them burned at Engine Room Audio, and get sleeves printed by an awesome guy in North Carolina named Rodney (whose band is here). Since we're DIY, we try and use independent companies instead of big chains like Discmakers or something. We spent one whole day making t-shirts. Then we spent one whole day glueing the sleeves together, stuffing them with CDs and affixing stickers to keep them in. It's a lot of work, but it's cheaper than the mass production way, and also uses a lot less plastic.
Also, it should be noted: Up to three weeks before tour, Rachel and I spent the entire winter making a new album. A new album called "Damn Monsters!" which we needed to finish before the tour. Making a new album right before tour may not be the best idea. Because recording always takes longer than scheduled, and especially when it's DIY that puts a lot of pressure on us to finish it in time enough to have copies for the road, and also, for it to be really good under those constraints. Fortunately, we're awesome, didn't kill each other under the stress, and got everything done in time. Frazzled, but satisfied.
And then, BAM, time to go.
So by the time we leave for tour, we have 31 concerts confirmed, two hanging in limbo, and three scheduled days off. So, 33 concerts planned in 35 days. And we have a suitcase full of t-shirts and CDs (including one made three weeks earlier). And we have a new stage show with lots of fun new toys we bought for tour, including Rachel's fancy new synth:
And, we have friends staying in our apartment while we are gone, which is nice. I'm not so cool with subletting my apartment to strangers. I would do it out of necessity, and I guess it wouldn't be so bad - our friend Debe lives with us, so subletters couldn't easily trash the place, as she would kick their unsuspecting asses. We like our apartment. Fortunately some great musician friends were moving back to NYC and needed a place to stay while they found a new place. And they have the definitive Debe Dalton Seal-Of-Approval:
Photo by Stephen Edgar
Five weeks is a long tour, and we carry all our own stuff. Clothes, instruments, t-shirts, CDs, some food and toiletries, and all the other things that you take either camping, or to the office. Last tour we brought too many clothes. This year we probably brought too many CDs. We carry everything in one overnight bag (a heavy backpack I carry), one rolling suitcase full of t-shirts, cds and small instruments, Rachel wears her cool new synth in a cool new synth backpack, and I carry my guitar. All in all, I bet what we carry and roll totals about 150 pounds - or as I learned on google, about 68 kilos.
68 kilos doesn't sound so impressive. I think we have feet and meters and such in America just to make the quantity of units sound more impressive. "You only weigh 68 kilos, man? Well, I way 150 pounds…." The British have "stones", which as I discussed in Toulouse with Thomas, the drummer of the UK band Vessels, is something that only the British would have.
We approach JFK airport with everything packed tight into the rolling suitcase, but it weighs too much and they want to charge us a million dollars for an overweight bag - so we unpack some of the heaviest stuff into my backpack. It's funny - they don't get to charge overweight people any extra to ride the plane, but they do get to charge skinny little me extra for a heavy bag. I feel like I should be able to point to the 225lb (102 kilos) guy with a laptop bag behind me in line and say to the airline ticketer, "if you add up him and his luggage, and me and mine, we're about even" and see what he says. Oh well. We are lucky to have the backpack, and we check two medium heavy bags for free instead of one heavy bag for $150.
Lufhansa, to its credit, serves free booze in economy class, and offers a hot hand towel before the in-flight meal. The in-flight meal is not horrible. The booze improves it. Rachel always gets the vegetarian option and her food is always better than mine. I always order the chicken one, thinking, "maybe it will be a lot better this time." I'm always wrong.
We hit down in Frankfurt - to meet our friends Bernhard and Amelie. We haven't seen Bernhard in one year. Bernhard is also called Boo Hoo, which is his musical name. We've played a lot together, travelled through Italy and Greece together on tour, and he is in many ways my brother. We have had some incredible conversations, and I really respect and admire his songwriting. He writes better songs in English than most people who speak English as their first language. Germans learn English in school - it's a requirement, so most young Germans have a lot of English. This means that they understand our wordier songs better than, say, Italians do. Italians just like to dance.
We meet Bernhard at the station and he takes us to his flat. We walk upstairs four flights to their beautiful apartment! It takes two of us to carry the rolling suitcase, which is already showing signs of distress. It sags a bit in the middle and sometimes scrapes against the ground. I also think the world needs to pick one or the other: Cobblestones, or Rolling Suitcases. We just can't have both.
Amelie's a graphic designer who make a really beautiful calendar this year! She also does movie reviews for a very old-fashioned German newspaper. We all go out for dinner, have a traditional Frankfurter meal of Green Sauce (a special herby sauce with boiled eggs and potatoes) and Apfelwein. I also get Fleischwurst (which when pronounced correctly sounds like "Flaaaaaaahschvorscht")
It's really nice to see another couple right away on the trip. It feels super casual, like we are just going to visit friends. They just happen to live a seven-hour flight away. But they agree, it feels very natural. It makes me really happy to be on tour. If touring was hotel rooms, room service and all-business it would be no fun at all. After a groovy dinner (tho the fleischwurst was not so good) we head home, have a rum nightcap. Boo Hoo grabs the cushions off the couch and fashions us a bed in his office. We wake up the next morning, Rachel and Amelie go to Yoga, Bernhard and I go to get some Euros. I take a picture of Goethe's house, ironically covered in graffiti. I email it to my dad. Now we're ready to start playing shows.
Amelie and her sister live in the same building, and their parents stop by. They haven't seen Boo and Amelie's new place. They like it. We tell them all about our upcoming trip. We invite them to our show. Boo Hoo takes us over to Radio X for a short interview and to sing a song on the air. We play "Woh Banana" and they love it. The guys sitting around the conference table outside the studio, smoking cigarettes, give us a big thumbs up when we leave the studio.
The show is at Yachtclub, a cool restaurant and venue on a boat in the river. Frankfurt is divided into two halves by the Main river (pronounced "mine"). Lots of European cities are divided by rivers, built around them instead of on just one side. This provides for some interesting separations - rich from poor, business from residential, bohemian from mainstream, etc. Lots of cities have "this side" and "that side", and it all makes me think, "Which side are you on, boy?"
The show is awesome -about 60 people, including friends who we only get to see on tour. Anja is a photographer who was really confused about how to explain the nuclear disaster in Japan to her kids. Laura has a friend who travels and sings but doesn't want to talk about it. Piwi is getting married and asks us to play at the wedding. We say yes, and when? July. So, I guess we're coming back pretty soon.
Piwi drew the art for "Damn Monsters!" and really did a great job. He also did "Recession Songs" which I think is one of the greatest album covers of all time, though I am biased (I told you this might be a one-sided blog).
We work really well together. The "Damn Monsters!" art is interesting because there's another, punker version of it that we'll probably use for the vinyl version. Piwi likes it better. He was also moving house at the time we were working, and I was rushing to finish the album, so we were both kinda stressed but our friendship is the sort that weathers these things well.
Vocal Warmup: "Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, we'll be together whatever the weather, whether we like it or not."
Hmm. I digress.
We hang out late at Yachtclub, start walking, decide to take a cab the rest of the way, and walk up the stairs to Amelie and Bernhard's place, again, with the suitcase, which, again, is showing more signs of wear. This thing's gonna break, for sure. Everyone's tired. We wake up the next morning, ready to rock and roll. Time to go to Cologne.